SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WTVD) -- Fifty years since Title IX became U.S. law, young women and girls are still seeing the benefits of the amendment that prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender in education and activities.
Lyn Andrews, a former Johnston County Public Schools athlete and coach and current JCPS Athletic Hall of Fame member, remembers a time before Title IX at Smithfield Selma Senior High School.
"When I came here to SSS as a student in 1972, the only sport offered for women was basketball," Andrews said. "But when I came back to teach here in 1980, we had five sports for women's athletics here."
Andrews was the first female physical education and health teacher hired at SSS. She says since her first few years as a coach, she's amazed at how the opportunities for young female athletes have changed.
"Since that time, we have just seen the opportunity for women explode," Andrews said. "Now it's at the forefront. And it's not a matter of will you allow us, it's that you will allow us."
An ABC11 data team analysis of surveys from the U.S. Department of Education found Johnston County Public Schools is among the best in the region when it comes to equity in sports between male and female teams. The data team looked at self-reported data from schools for the years 2016 and 2018 (data was not collected in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic) to determine the percentage of male and female students and compare those numbers to the percentage of male and female athletes.
None of the eight high schools in JCPS that reported data to the DOE reported a more than 10% difference between the percent of female students and female athletes.
The same is not true in other North Carolina districts. At 23 high schools across Wake County-including both public and charter schools-nine reported a more than 10% difference between female students and athletes. In Cumberland County, four of eight high schools that submitted data to the DOE reported the same gap in female athletic participation.
Josh Plisko, the athletic director for JCPS, said the community's passion for sports is one of the reasons for high participation among student athletes of all genders.
"We try to celebrate every sports accomplishment, no matter what it is," Plisko said. "Treating every sport just as important as the other ones is something we strive to achieve every year, and every start of every season."
He added that the strong tradition of mentorship between coaches and students helps engage young folks. For example, Kim Peacock, now a coach at Meadow School, has coached at the elementary, middle and high school level for JCPS for more than 20 years.
She said she's been at the job for so long, she now coaches the children of some of her former athletes and is able to encourage them by showing them photos of their parents playing sports.
Peacock said she keeps her eyes peeled for every opportunity for her students and encourages them to do the same-whether it's trying a new sport in a new season or waiting to join a new team in high school.
"I want to make sure that every opportunity they can have, if I can think of it, I'm going to tell them so that they won't miss out," Peacock said.
She added that she's seen young women gain invaluable life skills through athletics.
"One of those things is work ethic, cooperation, problem solving, a huge one is self confidence," Peacock said ."They learn how to cope--wins and losses. And that's something that you just can't learn in a book. That comes from experience."
Andrews knows athletics gave her those skills, and wants to see those values passed on to the next generation of young athletes.
"I have two granddaughters, and they like sports," Andrews said. "And so I'm just excited for them to just have the opportunity."